Vol. 1, Issue 24, October 28, 2003
Vuitton Lawsuit First of Many in France
Vuitton, the handbag maker which made news recently for suing the search engine Google for selling its trademarked name as a keyword to competitors for sponsored text ads, may have opened a virtual Pandora's box of litigation.
"Basically, Vuitton is unhappy not because Google was changing its search rank. Google's rankings are famously impervious to influence. But Google does display text ads with each search that are based on keywords used in the search," said University of California Berkeley computer consultant Wayne Yu. "Vuitton's lawsuit would have been dismissed under American law, because the ads are clearly labeled as such and are distinct from the search results."
French law, however, sees the matter a little differently.
"Frankly we have always found Google's rankings to defy logic," said François Burant of the French Ministry of Culture. "Vuitton has shown us that this self-appointed American ruler of the Internet is not above French law."
French officials are reportedly unhappy with the number of English text advertisements that pop up when searches are run on Google.fr, Google's French division.
"We have also had it with this insistence on presenting a distorted view of French history," added Burant.
The search term "French history" on Google.fr returns listings for Vichy France and the French surrender in World War II; the Franco-Prussian War; the fall of Napoleon; the turmoil of the French Revolution and the ensuing Terror - a list of violent and often unflattering events which many feel paint the country in an unfair light.
"This is a highly biased historiography," said History Professor Hervé Trevain, of the École Normale Supérieure, Fontenay. "I have no idea why this American company would choose to offer such a biased selection of French history to those using its search engine, but the time has come for us to intervene."
Specific comments could not be obtained from Google, although responses 1-10 of about 342 were offered, many of them highly relevant. However, France was seen to briefly disappear from the internet over the weekend, a fact which was only noticed when the French ambassador filed a complaint with the U.N. on Monday.
"We have only just begun to fight," said Burant.